Moms are the best. They give us birth. They feed us and hold us and wipe our little noses. They sit up with us when we’re sick and they wake us up to feed our growling bellies. That’s when we’re little. Then as time goes on, they start teaching us to communicate. Things like “bye-bye” and “no” are some of the first. Then, we eventually learn to talk back — that’s when it can get really interesting.
There are phrases we think in our minds. Phrases like ‘always wash your hands’ and ‘look both ways before you cross the street’ are words that replay in our brain to help us and protect us. Even as an adult those phrases are still there, ready to be taught and repeated for our own kids. But there are phrases that are stuck there even though we’d rather they not be. Often they are heard in a certain voice — the same voice that sang lullabys as we were rocked to sleep. I heard a lot of these myself, and there are many more that seem to be common knowledge among anyone who had a mom around. Don’t blame me if you hear these in your own mom’s voice. I’m just the messenger. Here are a few for your reading (or listening) pleasure.
“Stop making that face — your face will freeze that way!” “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” “Get to bed NOW!” “I don’t want to hear another peep out of you.” “Share with your brother.”
“Don’t be stingy — let your sister play with that, too.” “Go to your room.” “Hush!” “I don’t care if you don’t like it — eat it anyway.” “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!” “You get in there and do your homework NOW!” “I don’t want to hear it — march!”
I remember trying to blame things on my brother — after all, “He started it!” But that didn’t work around my house. The instant response from my mom was, “Maybe he started it but I’M going to finish it! Now straighten up and fly right!”
Then there are the unspoken messages we get. We all know the ‘mom voice’. It wasn’t yelling, exactly, it was just a slight increase in volume, but it was somehow the timing. Slow words. Like, “Clean…your…room…now.” You got the message. And there was the quiet sentence that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. “Just wait ‘til your dad gets home.” That always made me calculate in my head what he really would do. If it was a minor infraction I knew he really wouldn’t care if he was tired, in which case I kept doing whatever I was doing. However, if it was something he would really react to, I quit on the spot. It was a childish game of cat and mouse, but it kept me in line, sometimes. Same with counting. “I’m giving you five seconds to stop! ONE” Then a long pause. I kept doing whatever I was doing. “TWO” I hesitated but didn’t really comply. “THREE” I hesitated, but I knew I still had another number to go. And then, “FOUR” and I waited just a few more microseconds, then ceased and desisted. I knew the game. I always lost, but I tried to lose with some dignity.
And last, there was the all-out assault on my fragile ego. It was the dreaded name thing. I knew, as many people on Earth know, that when your mother simply said your full name, it was over. First name spoken calmly. Then middle name, spoken with authority. Finally, last name spoken with the strength and intensity that only a mom can muster. I don’t know what it is about hearing your full name spoken in that same voice that taught you ‘this little piggy’ that makes your four-year-old brain behave, but it must be documented in the psychological literature somewhere. It has a power that can only be yielded by a maternal parent, and it may be more powerful than the threat of nuclear war or predicted famine. It holds more sway than the risk of force and it works better than bribery. I guess it’s the fact that a four-year-old knows who will be there later today, and tonight, and tomorrow. And I guess that four-year-old knows that mom loves him (or her) anyway.